Archive for September, 2009

Bicycle holiday

Six-year-old Peach has had her heart set on a bicycle for weeks now.  Beans (8 years old) has had one for a couple of years, and learned to ride a tw0-wheel bike last summer.  Even 4-year-old Banana recently acquired a bike.  But so far no one has had Peach’s size in stock.  So the Cap’n and I went to Beit Shemesh today to hit the shuk, shop at the American foods market, and check out the stock at Bike Ben (where we bought Beans’s bike).

We are aware that secular Jewish kids love Yom Kippur, and that the streets of Tel Aviv–and even the Ayalon Freeway–are crowded with kids whizzing around on bicycles.  Some people figure that kids under the age of bar or bat mitzvah can do as they please since they don’t have to fast.  Other parents are a little annoyed at the lack of regard for one of the holiest days of the year.  And I’m not sure how ambulance drivers feel, but the Cap’n read that ambulances drive much slower on Yom Kippur for fear of hitting a kid on a bike.

Despite knowing all these things, coming from Efrat which is nearly all religious, we somehow didn’t expect that the stock at Bike Ben would be almost nil.  The guy there was apologetic that they didn’t have a 16″ bike for Peach, but after shrugging his shoulders, he said resignedly, “It’s the day after The Bicycle Holiday [Chag HaOfanayim].”

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Split pea soup

My favorite soup has always been split pea.  As a kid I could eat a large can of Campbell’s chunky, with the bits of ham, potato, and carrot.  It’s remained my favorite even in adulthood, though in recent years buying the stuff in cans has been, well, no longer an option.

But keeping kosher changed my attitude toward this as toward so many other foods I loved but couldn’t buy anymore: Don’t give up.  Learn to make it yourself.  (And if you can’t make it yourself, find something else that satisfies.)

I’ve experimented with the recipe over a number of years and come up with one that echoes exactly the texture and richness of the stuff I remember from childhood.  This is at least a half-day affair, so for people who work outside the home, making it on the weekend and freezing it in meal-sized containers is a wise choice.

About buying split peas: I know they’re dried, but buy them in a store that has a good deal of turnover.  I get them from a Yemenite couple who have a popular legumes, rice, and spice stall in the Beit Shemesh shuk.  I once bought them from an old man with a stall elsewhere in the shuk, who had very little to sell and none of it very appealing looking.  The soup came out lousy.

The other things about split peas is that they must be soaked—the longer, the better.  I sort them (pulling out small stones, withered peas, and anything else foreign I don’t like the look of) and soak them at least 8 hours.  However, I read recently that soaking 20 hours is optimal.  I’m making a batch today that I’ll have soaked for 24 hours.  Regardless, the longer they soak, the less time they take to cook.

The one thing I miss from the canned stuff is the smoky flavor imparted by the ham.  Pea soup is filling, but it benefits from a salty component.  Nowadays I serve it with Bacos at the table, or slice and sauté vegetarian hot dogs or sausage to serve on the side as well.  For those who don’t want the smoothness of the soup interrupted by these things, a friend once recommended adding chipotle flavoring to the soup.  Chipotle peppers are smoked, but still spicy.  For those who want smoky and love spicy, I recommend making the soup according to the regular recipe, and serving it at the table with McIlhenny’s Chipotle Tabasco or pureed chipotle peppers (they come in a small can, in adobo sauce) in a small dish for those who would like to add them to their own bowl.  I don’t recommend adding the hot spices directly to the soup pot since I’m not sure what will happen to the flavor over time (store in the refrigerator or freezer).

When reheating starchy foods like potato-leek or pea soup, use low flame.  Medium or high flame often result in the soup burning or sticking to the bottom of the pan.  Heat gently and stir frequently to prevent this happening.

One more thing about pea soup: As it sits, it continues to absorb water.  You may find after refrigerating or freezing a portion of soup that it has thickened even more.  If this is the case, simply add small amounts of water to the soup as you reheat it until the desired consistency is reached, stirring well to incorporate the water.

If you’re making a batch the size I make, use a very large stock pot.  Here are the ingredients I use to make a huge batch for freezing.  Halve the recipe if you wish.

Vegetable oil

2-3 onions, finely diced

6 cloves garlic, minced

2-3 sticks celery, chopped

2 kg split peas

12 pints water

1 bag bouquet garni (optional; could contain parsley, thyme, bay leaf)

4 large carrots, peeled and cut into bite-sized chunks

4 medium potatoes, scrubbed and cut into bite-sized chunks

Salt and pepper to taste

When the peas have been soaked and rinsed well, pour a few tablespoons of oil into the bottom of the pot—just enough almost to cover it.  Heat the oil to medium and add onions.  Stir to coat with oil, then turn the heat down to low and cook slowly, covered, about 15 minutes, stirring 2-3 times to prevent sticking.

Add garlic and celery and stir to incorporate.  Cook another 5 minutes or so.

Add split peas and water to the pot.  Stir well and raise the heat to high.  Bring to a boil, stir, then lower heat again.  Cook covered on low flame, stirring every half hour or so, until peas begin to disintegrate.  When visiting the pot to stir, skim off any foam that has formed on the surface.  (For well-soaked peas, this might be 2-4 hours.  I have sometimes cooked them for 5-6 hours if they were soaked for less time.)

When peas are soft and coming apart, and the soup as a whole is thickening, blend.  (I use an immersion blender—so handy.  If you use a regular blender, it is probably good to let the soup cool a while before transferring portions of it safely to the blender.)  When soup is blended, return to the pot and add carrots and potatoes.  Cook on medium heat 35-45 minutes, until carrots and potatoes are cooked.

Salt and pepper to taste.  Be careful not to over-salt; add salt more gradually as you taste, until the desired flavor is achieved.

With a salad and garlic bread, this makes a wonderful warming meal in a cold Sukkah.  (Or in our case, a fall Friday-night meal.)

Bon appetit.

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Fasting tip

With Yom Kippur around the corner, it’s time to think about the best way to fast so that we can make it through the day without collapsing during Neilah.

The Cap’n and I have read tips for the long fasts (Yom Kippur, Tisha B’Av) from a number of people over the years.  Most of them suggest carbo-loading shortly before the fast begins, stuffing one’s face with pasta or some such food.

But as the years (and fasts) have gone by, I’ve been less satisfied with this method of fast preparation.  I have a headache before I even go to bed on the evening of the fast (my anticipation headache, I call it) and the Cap’n is good for nothing but napping all afternoon on the fast day.

Then we remembered some interesting facts we’ve come across.  The Cap’n read that children (particularly girls) do much better at school (score higher on tests, concentrate for longer) and are less hungry during the morning when they’ve had protein for breakfast.  I read that professional dancers load up on carbohydrates before a performance, but replenish their muscles afterward by eating a high-protein meal.

So this year, we decided to experiment before Tisha B’Av.  We ate lots of fruit for two days before the fast, which releases water more slowly than drinking glass after glass of water the day before the fast.  Then the day before the fast we had a starchy lunch, but about an hour before the fast, made a few peanut butter and jelly sandwiches each.  We felt very full for the rest of the evening, but how would we feel the next day?

As it turned out, much better than in the past.  I take advantage of the heter for nursing mothers to eat and drink shiurim (a small mouthful of food or cheekful of water every 9 minutes), but I usually try to fast until noon of the fast day.  This year, that was a very easy task, and in the end one piece of buttered toast and a glass of water was all I needed to get through the fast very comfortably.  The Cap’n felt much better too, and was awake for much of the afternoon of the fast.

Half-fasts can be eased by making a peanut butter (and jelly) sandwich and keeping it at the ready.  Set the alarm for half an hour before the fast begins, wash, eat the sandwich, drink water (or milk; the Cap’n can’t eat a pb/j sandwich without a glass of milk), bentsh, brush teeth (if you’re awake enough) and go back to bed.  The fast should go very smoothly.

Any other fasting suggestions are welcome.  I’m not a coffee drinker, but some of my best friends are, and their methods of fast preparation differ.  Some wean themselves off caffeine in advance, while others overdose the day before the fast to help them get through it without the weaning process.

Easy fasting.

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More eye candy

My friend Heather is one of the great corrupting influences in my life.  She introduced me to Cake Wrecks, and now every few days I click over and catch up on the madness of professionally decorated cakes gone horribly, hilariously wrong.  No matter how wiped out, down, or stressed I am, Jen can usually get at least one serious belly laugh out of me.

And just today in my inbox I had another email from Heather–this one alerting me to Epicute, a “cute food blog.”  Most of the food is approximately 80% sugar, but I think that’s all to the good.  First of all, food made from sugar can reach dizzying heights of beauty.  (Remember Hansel and Gretel?)  Second, perhaps if I look at enough blogs like this it will satisfy my nearly insatiable craving for sweets.  You know, like when I worked at McDonald’s and they’d put me in front of the fry vat.  I could go to work hungry, and 8 hours later go home satiated (without having eaten anything).

That’s my hope anyway.

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Don’t get this holiday

Why is Rosh Hashana, on which we pig out on sweet foods, the most solemn day (two days, actually) of the year, while Yom Kippur, on which we fast, is supposed to be the most joyous?

I get Pesach, and I get Shavuot.  I’m working on Purim.  But I don’t get Rosh Hashana at all.

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Diplomatic lipstick

The Cap’n and I happened across some old friends (from our Beit Shemesh days) the other evening.  We spent a few minutes chatting, catching up, filling each other in on our families and their doings.

Then the husband asked, with a gloating sort of edge to his voice, “So, what do the people in your neighborhood think of the impending freeze?”  I have begun to feel the air cool from summer, and nights are positively heavenly with the windows open, but I think we’re still a couple of months from our first frost.

Then the coin dropped, and I realized he meant the settlement freeze.  (It was that gloating edge that tipped me off.)

The short answer is that people in my neighborhood are not thrilled.  But that’s only the short answer.  The long answer is longer (as you can imagine).

I shouldn’t think the Arabs in neighboring villages are too thrilled either.  Twelve thousand Arabs rely on construction in the settlements to make their living.  (I blogged about this previously.)  How is freezing settlement growth going to help feed them and their families?  What is the PA doing to ensure that these men can take home a paycheck every month?  And if the PA does nothing to help these families survive their sudden unemployment, what will be the result?  Will crime rates be affected?  Will children go hungry?  Will Hamas gain traction in Judea and Samaria?  And most importantly, will we be any closer to peace?

It’s a popular notion that settlements are the key obstacle to peace in the region.  (Kind of like the notion that Israel is the greatest threat to peace in the world right now.)  To embrace this notion, however, one must be willing to ignore the fact that Israel fought three wars before a single settlement was built.  One must also be willing to ignore the fact that Ehud Barak offered Yassir Arafat an incredibly generous gift of land for peace (which would have entailed dismantling many settlements) in 2000, and that Arafat turned it down.  And a similar gift was offered Mahmoud Abbas by Ehud Olmert, with the identical response.

The “peace process” has been marked by fits and starts.  Changes in administration always seem to call into question previous agreements with former heads of state (or terror group).  Hamas doesn’t want to be held to anything the PA does.  Netanyahu is less willing to give things away for free than Barak or Sharon were.  And now Obama doesn’t want to honor agreements and understandings made by his predecessor which allow for settlement growth.

And let’s face it—if you want to go after someone in the region who’s visible, who’s controversial, and who people like to say is in violation of “international law”, the settlers are an easy target.  In the eyes of the world, Israelis are the demons of Planet Earth.  And religious Israelis are the demons of Israel.  And settlers are the demons of the religious world.  (Not all settlers are religious, but the ones whose pictures make the paper nearly always are.)

And let’s face it—the REAL stumbling blocks to peace are too overwhelming to contemplate: Jew-hatred in the Arab curriculum, a corrupt Palestinian Arab government more interested in warfare and lining its own pockets than embracing the real job of government (i.e. build infrastructure, establish peace and security, build an economy, create an educational curriculum that educates its children to be members of the wider world), an unshakable cultural imperative to bring down one’s enemies before building oneself up.  Those are things the West and Israel can do nothing about—they must come about from within Arab society.

But the settlers—those are an easy target.  Settlements can be seen, and their construction is within our grasp.  If we order them stopped, we can at least feel as though we have some control over the situation.  It may not bring peace (correction: It certainly will NOT bring peace) but at least no one can say we didn’t do what we could.

There’s only one problem with this approach: it won’t work.  Hamas doesn’t give a hoot about settlements over the “green line.”  The whole country’s over the “green line” to them, and Tel Aviv is a settlement to be dismantled like any other.  Freezing settlements is not going to win any points with Hamas, Hizbullah (which has rearmed in Lebanon in preparation for its next scrap with Israel), or Iran (ditto, but with nukes).  Practically speaking, with Arabs out of work, the housing shortage in Israel unaddressed, and the world bleating that the planet is unsafe as long as Israel’s around, how is a freeze on settlement growth going to help?

To recycle a popular expression, the settlement freeze is the diplomatic equivalent of putting lipstick on a pig.

Now ain’t that purty?

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These last few weeks have been packed and difficult.  Returning from the U.S., unpacking, finding things missing, the start of cold season, school starting, parent meetings, signing the kids up for activities, helping friends settle in Efrat, the high holidays coming and, in the last week or two, several upsetting illnesses and deaths.

The latest is the death of an acquaintance’s three-month old baby.  The baby was ill from the time of his birth, and spent his early weeks (possibly his entire life) in the hospital.  The community through which I know the father is a supportive one, and groups of its members were carpooling to Tel Aviv to donate blood (or blood products) to help the baby survive.  This week I learned that the struggle is over, and the young couple is now sitting shiva for their first child.

I know there was a time when infant mortality was high, and such incidents were not unusual.  But I don’t think for a minute that that made them any easier.  The hope that parents pour into each and every pregnancy and new baby, the expectation of seeing that baby grow to adulthood, and the love that it is impossible not to lavish on them (not to mention the hormones hard-wired in a mother that make her a little cuckoo when it comes to her children) cannot be helped.

So as I paced my room last night at 1 AM with a tired but stuffy-nosed Bill (who complained any time I tried to lie down with him), exhausted and ready to collapse, feeling the beginnings of a headache and wondering when I was ever going to get to sleep (not at all, as it turned out), I knew exactly how lucky I was.

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